Justice Samuel Alito characterized lingering local and state coronavirus lockdowns Thursday as a “constitutional stress test” that are placing restrictions on liberty that were “previously unimaginable.”
“We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged,” Alito said in a virtual speech to The Federalist Society, according to The Associated Press. He added that the lockdowns have introduced “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.”
Stressing his belief that the coronavirus is a real public health emergency, Alito went on to emphasize that the lockdowns are testing the limits of constitutional freedoms and bringing to the surface trends that have been percolating long before the pandemic. Alito warned that such measures must be kept from becoming a “recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”
“The COVID crisis has served as a sort of constitutional stress test, and in doing so it has highlighted disturbing trends that were already present before the virus struck,” Alito said.
The justice, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2005 by President George W. Bush, pinpointed the curtailed religious liberty during the lockdowns as particularly worthy of concern. “It pains me to say this,” he said, “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” He brought up the case that came before the court in July regarding a church in Nevada that was seeking relief regarding the state’s lockdown orders on houses of worship.
Likening it to similar cases that have come to the Supreme Court from California, Alito said such examples “blatantly discriminated” against religious institutions and “should not have been a tough call.”
As The Daily Wire reported:
The Supreme Court denied a petition Friday from Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley, a Nevada church asking for relief from the state’s strict attendance cap on in-person religious services.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the high court’s majority in an unsigned opinion, which was strongly rebuked in three separate dissenting opinions from the court’s more conservative justices.
“The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who later added the case was likely to succeed on First Amendment grounds.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who recently sided with the court’s liberal appointees on a high-profile religious liberty case, wrote a powerful yet succinct dissent in which he argued that the Nevada case currently at hand was truly “simple.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in yet another dissenting opinion, wrote: “Nevada’s 50-person attendance cap on religious worship services puts praying at churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos, or biking at gyms. In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion.”